Armed with a Pen

Views from a worker and student

Category: History

Cultural Revolutionary: Lu Xun as an Author and Marxist

Now more than ever, it’s crucial for communists to not only be well versed in theory but also cultured. Attention must be given to propaganda, agitation, and ideological work via art. Perhaps no other artist channeled the feel of the times into such renowned communist art as Lu Xun, who created rousing, entertaining, and accessible works which continue to inspire today.

Early Life

Born into a wealthy family only a few years before their fall from grace, the life of Lu Xun in many ways mirrored the experience of his generation, as well as the history of China itself. During his childhood, Xun’s father and grandfather, both civil servants, were caught and nearly sentenced to death for bribery, beginning a downward spiral which would drive his father to drink, smoke opium, and eventually die having squandered much of the family fortune. Once moneyed and respected, they suddenly found themselves ostracized by their neighbors and without adequate means in a rapidly worsening economic and political climate.

Sick of China’s declining feudal society and angered by the inability of traditional medicine to cure his father, Xun enrolled in Sendai Medical School in Japan to study western medicine in 1904. It was here he discovered his passion for literature. Reading and discussing with friends in the book stores of Sendai, Xun found himself unable to ignore the turmoil in his home country, drawn to matters of national liberation and ideological rejuvenation. He idolized authors from oppressed countries, with a particular fondness for the Polish and Hungarian poets Adam Mikiewicz and Petofi Sandor. Xun quickly realized that no medicine could save China if it remained politically and ideologically backward. Barely two years after enrolling, Xun dropped out of medical school to begin his literary career. This was motivated not by artistic passion but from a burning desire to awaken the Chinese people.

Despite such lofty ideals, Xun was chronically in need of money and so his aspirations were initially uninspiring. Joined by his brother, Zhou Zhouren, the two worked to translate and publish an anthology series of eastern European fiction but without much success. Only two volumes were ever completed, and less than fifty copies were sold in total. The failure of Xin Sheng, a student magazine he became involved in, marked the beginning of a twelve year hiatus wherein Xun would write not a word.

During this time, he returned to China to be married. Though he did not love or even know his bride, Zhu An, an illiterate woman with bound feet, he felt obligated to please and serve his widowed mother. As his wife, An loved her husband deeply and cared for her mother-in-law dutifully. Xun respected and trusted her but never returned her feelings, eventually returning to Japan and beginning a relationship with his true love, Xu Guangping. (Despite all this, it’s interesting to note that he continued to send money to his wife up until his death; as did Guangping afterward.) In 1909, he returned to China yet again to teach at Zhejiang Normal School, eventually earning a position in the Ministry of Education. He also studied numerous subjects during his hiatus with a focus on literature.

Writing

Though he certainly made professional achievements, his once great dreams were all but forgotten. Only when urged on by a comrade did Xun finally write his first original story in 1918. A Madman’s Diary, written as the journal of an ill and paranoid farmer who discovers that the members of his village are cannibals, won him the recognition of radical and especially leftist writers and activists both for its accessibility and revolutionary themes. Bucking the traditional academic style, Xun’s use of vernacular Chinese made it an instant classic. The realism and grit of his style, something so lacking in the work of his contemporaries, continues to shock and inspire writers and readers to this day.

The story itself explores Chinese society through the eyes of an ideological heterodoxy, stripped of sentimentality. Thus, the main character’s “madness” only appears as such because it runs counter to the rest of his village. The cannibals remain “sane” while the only person trying to stop them becomes more and more panicked.

Upon discovering the plot, he explains to his brother that “probably all primitive people ate a little human flesh to begin with. Later because their outlook changed, some of them stopped … But some are still eating.” Hearing this, his brother merely “smiled cynically.” As the protagonist continues, and others begin to eavesdrop, the brother’s smug superiority turns to anger.

“They want to eat me, and of course you can do nothing about it single-handed; but why should you join them? As man-eaters they are capable of anything. If they eat me, they can eat you as well; members of the same group can still eat each other. But if you will just change your ways immediately, then everyone will have peace.”

Outside the gate stood a group of people … all of them eaters of human flesh. … Some of them thought that since it had always been so, men should be eaten. Some knew that they should not eat men, but still wanted to; and they were afraid people might discover their secret; thus, when they heard me they became angry, but they still smiled their cynical, tight-lipped smile.

Suddenly my brother looked furious and shouted in a loud voice: “Get out of here, all of you! What is the point of looking at a madman?”

Then I realized part of their cunning. They would never be willing to change their stand, and their plans were all laid; they had stigmatized me as a madman.

Xun here creates an extremely effective allegory for class struggle and asks the question of reform or revolution.

“They want to eat, and of you can do nothing about it single-handed.” Here he describes the exploiter classes: the feudal lords, the bourgeoisie, and the imperialists. Owning state power, these exploiter classes, according to Marxism, exorcise dictatorial control over the working classes whose labor they receive the fruits of. Nothing can be done against these systems as an individual. Only class struggle and the unity of all workers, the peasantry and the proletariat, and, in the case of imperialism, the oppressed national bourgeoisie, can bring about the kind of systemic change necessary to liberate society.

“As man-eaters they are capable of anything. … members of the same group can still eat each other.” Just as one cannibal can still eat another, the exploiting classes are no more merciful towards each other than they are towards the exploited classes. The British imperialists had more in common with their class counterparts in China than Chinese workers. This didn’t stop them from oppressing both.

As he urges his brother, “if you will just change your ways immediately, then everyone will have peace,” we see the question of reform or revolution addressed. Will the exploiters just change their ways immediately? Of course not. Naturally, when asked to simply stop eating people, the brother “only smiled cynically, then a murderous glean came into his eyes.” Though perhaps not mad, the protagonist is certainly an idealist, hoping to merely convince the cannibals to give up their entire way of life, to convince the exploiters of committing class suicide. This idealism is quickly thrown into the face of the protagonist, who is told he’s a madman for even addressing reality. Though he persists, urging the cannibals to “change, change from the bottom of your hearts! … You must know that in the future there will be no place for man-eaters,” his appeal falls on deaf ears. While he wastes time trying to appeal to the cannibals to change voluntarily, he alienates himself all the more from those unsuspecting people who could actually save themselves if they understood the danger they were in. Tragedy strikes as the brother kills and eat his own little sister a few nights later.

The story ends ominously with the realization that the protagonist too may have eaten his sister. “I have only just realized that I have been living all these years in a place where for thousands of years they have been eating human flesh. My brother had just taken over the charge of the house when our sister died, and he may have well used her flesh in our rice and dishes, making us eat it unwittingly.” Xun thus elucidates the dialectical materialist understanding of social consciousness. As Karl Marx writes, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” Anyone existing in class society will undoubtedly be exposed to and influenced by the ideology and consciousness of the exploiter class.

There is still a glimmer of hope, however. “Perhaps there are still children who have not eaten men? Save the children…” Ultimately, it’s the next generation that will be able to achieve the dream of a truly classless world, free from exploitation and its ideological remnants. Revolution will not be easy, but it’s the only hope for the future, for creating a society of “real men”, not “reptiles.” As Mao Zedong puts it, only when “all mankind voluntarily and consciously changes itself and the world” can communism be reached.

Xun’s stories are all allegorical and, despite the occasional artistic misstep, all achieve a level of clarity that few other artists have been able to, balancing message with sensibility more or less evenly. The fact that his very first published fiction, written after such a lengthy hiatus, was able to so eloquently get across a clear message while being both accessible and genuinely well written is a testament to Xun’s diligence in study.

Other notable works include Kung-I-Chi, a critique of the Confucian educational tradition and ideology where the titular Confucian scholar, having failed the Imperial Exam, finds himself reduces to poverty and drunkenness before finally disappearing, and The New Year’s Sacrifice, a moving and emotionally intelligent story which describes the patriarchal oppression of women under feudalism. His most well known work, however, is The True Story of Ah Q, a cutting satire of national chauvinism and overconfidence during an era literally dubbed “the century of humiliation.” Ah Q’s claiming of “victory” in the face of constant defeat and embarrassment, as well as his stubborn refusal to ask for or accept help, cleverly critiqued the blind traditionalism of the feudal ideologues.

Legacy

Upon his death in 1936, the Communist Party of China demanded the Kuomintang government give Xun a state funeral, lift the ban on his work, and erect statues of him in the cities he had worked and lived. As he was a prolific social critic and communist, these demands were ignored. Nonetheless, at the ceremony, his body was covered with a silk cloth reading “soul of the nation.”

To this day, Xun’s work is like Shakespeare. Names and quotes from his work are used regularly in everyday conversation and he is widely regarded as not only one of the greatest Chinese writers of all time, but one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century in any language. From his childhood home to Shaoxing to the shops he frequented while in Japan, Xun is celebrated across eastern Asia as an intellectual giant.

Some confusion remains, however, over whether Xun was genuinely a communist. Much of this is due to the contradictory invocation of his name and legacy during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. On the one hand, his achievements were being proudly upheld while, on the other, artists with similar styles were being persecuted. Moreover, clashes between Xun and the Party over literary policy were being purposely overlooked by Mao and his supporters.

Today, with order long having been restored, the Communist Party of China maintains that he was in fact a loyal communist. Though he butted heads with the Party at times, putting out the slogan “People’s Literature of National Revolutionary Struggle!” in opposition to the call for a united front with all anti-feudal, anti-Japanese forces, he remained true in his conviction that the communists were the greatest chance for China to regain independence and strengthen itself. He was still at heart a student of the May Fourth Movement. After the Red Army completed the Long March in October of 1935, Xun personally telegrammed the Party Central Committee, writing: “In you lies the hope of China and all humanity.” This admiration was mutual, especially for Mao who crowned Xun the “chief commander of China’s cultural revolution.”

Artistically, Xun exhibited every trait a communist must. Marx once said: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Few artists have put these words into action as well as him. Xun boldly stated that his mission was, above all, to radicalize and galvanized his readers. In the preface Call to Arms, he writes:

I no longer feel any great urge to express myself … I sometimes call out, to encourage those fighters who are galloping on in loneliness, so that they do not lose heart. Whether my cry is brave or sad, repellent or ridiculous, I do not care. However, since it is a call to arms, I must naturally obey my general’s orders.

As the Peking Review would later write, “He broke completely with old traditions and old forces. … he had not a moment’s regret for the death of the old world. He repudiated the old world in the most merciless way. The force of his pen was such that the enemy was vanquished wherever it pointed.” In all his work, he rejected dogmatism and flunkey-ism while expounded upon dialectical materialism and critiquing society in such a way that could reach out and educate even the least educated. It’s this steadfast resolve, down to earth nature, and willingness to speak the truth that all writers, not just Marxists, should learn from and adopt.

Marriage Benefits Men. So Why Do So Many Resist It?

For thousands of years, women have been held in marital bondage, tasked with producing a “legitimate” heir for their husbands. Even today, marriage remains an economic institution working for the benefit of property owning patriarchs. Yet many men view marriage with suspicion and fear while women are stereotyped as dreaming of marriage from girlhood. Why is this? The answer can be found in examining historical and contemporary property relations.

The Old Ball and Chain

In its infancy, marriage was a nakedly economic institution with love coming second, if at all. With the invention of agriculture, early pastoral peoples, previously possessing little in the way of permanent wealth, now had large swaths of land which became the private property of familial patriarchs who could now utilize the labor of others. As Engels writes in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State:

[Under pre-state communism] human labor-power still does not produce any considerable surplus over and above its maintenance costs. That was no longer the case after the introduction of cattle-breeding, metalworking, weaving and, lastly, agriculture.

Here the domestication of animals and the breeding of herds had developed a hitherto unsuspected source of wealth and created entirely new social relations. … Now, with their herds of horses, camels, asses, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, the advancing pastoral peoples … had acquired property which only needed supervision and the rudest care to reproduce itself in steadily increasing quantities and to supply the most abundant food in the form of milk and meat.

Where a man once had to hunt, working tirelessly to produce only the essentials, a man with a field could now employ slave labor, usually taking the form of captured prisoners of war, to produce in abundance. This new class of slave owners, ruling every corner of the ancient world from the city states of ancient Greece to the rice kingdoms of Yayoi Japan, needed a new way to keep property within their class. Thus, marriage arose alongside private property and slavery as a means to establish a male line of inheritance and safeguard patriarchal class rule.

As Engels later notes, familia, the Roman word for family, referred only to a body of slaves and without sentimentality. It was not until much later that marriage and family would become related to romance and love. Historian Stephanie Coontz writes in Marriage, a History that, though love marriage existed in Europe conceptually as early as the fourteenth century, it was not commonly practiced until well into the seventeenth century. For the rich and landed, love marriage would remain a hopeful fantasy until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with love firmly an ideal inseparable from marriage, men were encouraged through all avenues to exercise dictatorial power over their wives. At the same time, women were encouraged to submit fully to their husbands and carry out their wifely duties both in the kitchen and the bedroom without question or complaint. This was reinforced in literature, radio, film, television, and especially advertisements as the general public was literally sold patriarchal values and monogamy.

Patriarchy was further reinforced through political and racial tensions. Red Scare propaganda warned that, should the communists ever get the upper hand, “our women would be helpless under the boots of the Asiatic Russians.” Segregationists labeled interracial marriage or “race mixing” a communist plot and constantly talked of non-whites coming to ravage white women and destroy the “white race.” The message, that our women need to be protected, reinforced the role of the husband and father as patriarchal, as the protector, provider, and model for the family economically, spiritually, and politically.

The same was done in anti-feminist propaganda. From the earliest days of the suffragette movement, ugly, unmarried women with an ax to grind attempting to emasculate men has been a reoccurring anti-feminist trope. This kind of rhetoric is still used, as can be seen everywhere from Brietbart’s infamous 2015 “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” article to Evangelist Pat Robinson’s 1988 declaration that “The feminist agenda is … a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.” The message is once again that, if left to their own devices, women will only bring about ruin and so need to be controlled.

Religious teachings played a significant role in this, with Christian and Jewish theologians using the story of Adam and Eve to justify male chauvinism. Just as Eve is said to have mislead Adam into eating the forbidden fruit, women were perceived as harbingers of temptation whose own simplemindedness would lead to familial ruin without the leadership of a man. Religious leaders across denominations spoke often of the place of woman and the Godly hierarchy of the family. While men were encouraged to lord over their family, religious literature aimed at women taught them to be docile and serve their husbands as they would God.

Even pornography reinforced patriarchal sexual roles, playing upon themes of domination and temptation. Throughout the twentieth century, women played very few roles in pornography: either as the damsel in need of rescuing, the victimized “whore” who is powerless before her male pursuer, or as the seductress luring men to immorality with her feminine wiles. In the case of the damsel and the whore, little attention is needed to see sexist and patriarchal themes. The lessons are, of course, that women are helpless before men, that women need men, and that men are entitled to women sexually.

With the seductress we see, however, a return to the old Puritanical view of women as sinful temptresses. The seductress, rather than being a risk to herself, is a risk to men. In pornography, this figure flips the script of the “natural” order of things, placing women in the position of power. Similarly, there’s also the genre of cuckold porn where a man’s wife or daughter has sex with another man before her helpless husband or father. This genre plays upon sexual anxiety in a similar way as the seductress; the women now has the power to cheat. Though in some cases she too is a victim, the message is the same. Ultimately, she is just as in need of male authority as the damsel. The cheating wife or promiscuous daughter always ends up needing either to be protected or controlled.

Pornography also sexualized lesbianism in order to cater to heterosexual male appetites. Transgender women too have become sexualized through the abhorrently named “shemale” or “trap” genre. The result is that female sexuality in all its forms have been made a subject of the male gaze, made to serve the sexual fancies of men even without their active participation.

In this way, all sexual and gender expression has been perverted and warped to suit the needs of the patriarchy. As feminist Catharine MacKinnon writes, this hegemony over romance and sexuality can be seen even in non-traditional relationships, such as “lesbian culture’s butch/femme, and sadomasochism’s top/bottom” which have been “socially coded as heterosexuality’s male/female.” Thus, sexuality was reduced to the terms of binary, Freudian essentialism with heterosexuality seen as the “natural” default whose free, promiscuous expression is stifled only by religious and/or societal mores. Gender too followed along these binary lines, with expression limited to the contents of ones pants.

Ultimately, this culture was only sustainable due to the fact that the United States saw genuine economic growth in the period following the Second World War. Having received foreign military bases formerly belonging to the British Empire in exchange for battleships and supplies, the US was suddenly in the position to become the largest imperialist power the world has ever seen. Having oceans between itself and the fighting also meant that the US was the only industrialized nation not ravaged by war. Thus, in the period between 1948 and 1973, the nation’s real GDP rose 169%, overall employment increased by 75% with manufacturing jobs increasing by over 30%, and per capita personal income increased across every demographic by over 50%. The then prevailing Keynesian school of economics helped create a vast consumer base by increasing government spending to public works projects. The post-war Veterans Affairs loans to returning service members in particular created a boom in the housing market which helped even their civilian counterparts.

With a newly unprecedented amount of property to safeguard, marriage became more common than any other point in American history. By 1950, 82% of adults were married. Moreover, these marriages began very early, usually between the ages of 17 and 25, and lasted often until death. The average American woman wed around this time, for example, would go on to spend a full 88% of her life married according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Monogamy was the only socially accepted form of pairing available, with women on average having, at most, three sexual partners during their lifetime. Men, on the other hand, averaged almost double that, having around five or six sexual partners. This was largely due to popular perceptions of divorce and the role of the wife. Divorce was hugely frowned upon; and with only 34% of women employed by 1950 compared to 86% of men, marriage was seen as a wife’s profession. It was infinitely more common for a husband to be unfaithful than for a wife to. Though a man could walk away from marriage safely, a woman would often end up on the street if she suddenly found herself without a husband. These marriages, though economically safe, were often unhappy. From 1960 to 1980, with the widespread adoption of no-fault divorce laws and a growing number of women in the workforce, the rate of divorce more than doubled.

The New Ball and Chain

Not everyone was content with miserable marriage and monogamy, however. With the sexual revolution of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, coupling and sexuality were reexamined. Pioneering sexual studies, such as those done by the famous Masters and Johnson research team, were made accessible through books and television. Popular works like Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex and Sue Johnson’s long running Sunday Night Sex Show (or Talk Sex with Sue Johnson as it was known in the US) urged millions to explore their sexuality, shifting moral and social views of sex from being more reproductive to more pleasure centered. The development of more and improved forms of contraception allowed more people to do so both inside and out of marriage. Premarital sex, open marriage, and sexual promiscuity became increasingly acceptable.

It’s this movement that laid the foundation for shows like Three’s Company which dared to do real sexual humor and explore sexual tension among the unmarried on television. Film too became significantly more sexual between the 1970s and 90s. Blaxploitation made pimps into superheroes. Sexed up, macho men like Superfly’s Priest and Shaft’s John Shaft glorified and normalized male promiscuity while the portrayal of hypermasculine pimps glamorized the sex trade. Meanwhile, sex comedies and slashers cemented horny teenagers into American cinema. These films often fetishized patriarchal concepts like virginity and made lighthearted jokes of nonconsensual sexual activity like peeping. Even well into the late 1990s and 2000s, movies like American Pie causally had their protagonists engaging in such detestable acts as recording themselves having sex without their partner’s knowledge.

Pornography, especially in the age of the internet, has seen a dramatic shift in theming. Pornography has largely abandoned the traditional temptation porn and is focusing instead on commodification. Series like ‘Property Sex’, a series about young women exchanging sexual favors for rent, and ‘Money Talks’, a series literally just about paying random women to do sexual stunts, present female sexuality as a commodity for male enjoyment. Whereas the porn of old fetishized the control of women, today’s porn sees women shared among multiple partners. Instead of selling men one woman, they’re presented with an endless stream of women who can simply be paid for sex whenever and wherever.

With this in mind it becomes unsurprising to note that, across mediums, a trend has emerged wherein marriage is seen as women’s endgame but a chore and even a trap for men. Naturally, the man has to be coerced into marriage, dragged to the altar kicking and screaming by a man-crazed harpy who will inevitably drop the girlfriendly facade during marriage and come to dominate and emasculate her new husband.

The cliche has been pounded into the head of the American public for decades if through no other medium than television. The nagging, put-upon wife and the thoughtless, even oafish husband have been repeated ad nauseam just in sitcoms. To name a few more well-known ones, there’s All in the Family’s Archie and Edith Bunker, Married With Children’s Ed and Peggy Bundy, Home Improvement’s Tim and Jill Taylor, Everybody Loves Raymond’s Ray and Debra Barone, and Family Guy’s Peter and Lois Griffin. Their level of dysfunction may vary, from Ralph Kramden’s iconic threats of domestic violence on The Honeymooners to George Lopez’s constant lying and causal disrespect in his titular family comedy, but the same miserable stereotype remains constant.

The unmarried aren’t spared either. Countless straight male characters, be them Seinfeld’s George Costanza or The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz, seem pathologically afraid of commitment. Men, if we go by the sitcom, would greatly prefer constant causal sex with zero emotional investment.

For women, the opposite it true. Straight female characters like Will & Grace’s Grace Adler and The Nanny’s Fran Fine work desperately to find some man to tie down. Marriage, we’re told, is apparently every woman’s greatest goal in life with even relatively empowered, promiscuous women like Friends’ Rachel Green and Frasier’s Roz Doyle inevitably breaking down and having at least one episode where they put on a wedding dress, eat ice cream, and bemoan being single. Even in real life, wedding magazines are aimed almost exclusively at brides, never grooms, while television and movies focus on the “Bridezilla” and saying yes to the dress.

With no other source but pop culture, one would think women get the most out of marriage. This, however, is still not the case. Studies have shown that women consistently rate the quality of their marriage lower than their husbands do. According to a 2015 survey by the American Association of Retired Persons, over two thirds of divorces are initiated by wives, not husbands. And while the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that 1 in 9 men will experience domestic abuse, the risk for women is significantly greater, with over a quarter of women expected to be victims of domestic abuse sometime during their lives.

In the face of such a grim reality, why do the stereotypes persist?

Money Over Everything

The problem is that the fundamental purpose of marriage is being undermined in the age of neoliberalism. With more and more capital concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, vast swaths of the population have little reason to marry beyond tradition. With capitalism’s natural tendency towards proletarianization, marriage finds itself undermined by the very forces which necessitate it.

Ever since the late 1970s, small business ownership in the US has been on a consistent decline. The Census Bureau’s Business Dynamics Statistics show that, while small businesses comprised over 12% of all US enterprises in 1980, by 2012 they were reduced to less than 8%. Even among those remaining entrepreneurs, few are willing to start from scratch. Starts-ups, defined as those new businesses unconnected to a preexisting chain, have been completely outpaced by franchise establishments. From 1983 to 2006, the number of new start-ups grew by only 36% while new established franchises like McDonald’s or Walmart grew by 50%. Employment too has favored chains, with the number of jobs offered by establishments more than doubling those offered by start-ups.

The Census Bureau also reports that more small employers close than open every month. 75% of all small business are nonemployer and over half of all small businesses are actually home-based, with the vast majority bringing in on average barely over $40,000 a year before expenses. Even more worrying, studies from Harvard and Princeton have shown that 94% of all jobs created since 2005 have been temporary. The number of Americans working these “gigs” jumped significantly from 2005 to 2015, from barely 10% to well over 15%. With the success of companies like Uber and AirB&B, that number continues to rise.

The result is that more Americans than ever have almost nothing to pass on. All across the country, poverty is on the rise due to the increased cost of living and the lack of sustainable job opportunities and affordable housing. As of 2018, more than half of all Americans are in or near poverty. A 2017 study from Stanford University showed that, since 1940, people’s ability to improve their living conditions have been “cut in half.” Despite low unemployment and the generally healthy state of the economy, the working class is struggling to get by and the petty-bourgeoisie is weaker than ever.

Unsurprisingly, compared to the 1990s when well over 50% of all adults married, today, only 29% of poor and 39% of “middle class” adults have tied the knot. Meanwhile, 56% of wealthy adults are married. Though much higher, this too is on the decline.

Even sex is on the decline with the Center for Disease Control reporting the number of young people engaging in intercourse having dropped a whopping 14% since 1991. This is not confined only to the US. Japan, for example, reports more deaths than births every year. Despite generally growing populations due to immigration, the EU reports the same. In South Korea, birth rates have become so low that the government has taken to forcing students to date as part of their college curriculum.

Without property to secure, more and more people have no reason to marry. Existing for their benefit, marriage now offers no incentive to men who, with no other alternative, prefer to secure themselves in the comfort of pornography and, in the case of so-called “incels“, self-righteous bitterness and misogyny. Women, on the other hand, still being sold Rockwellian domesticity, have entertained thoughts of marriage much more seriously than men. With women poorer and hungrier in every state in the US and across the world, marriage continues to represent their hope for a safer life, for economic security at the cost of marital bondage. Though marriage is hardly worth mourning, it is nonetheless a sad time for the working class which finds itself driven further and further into destitution and atomization under the decaying capitalist order.

Fortunate Son: The Life and Legacy of John McCain

Today, John Sidney McCain III has died. The Republican Senator from Arizona held office for thirty one years before succumbing to glioblastoma, a rare and extremely aggressive form of brain cancer. He leaves behind a legacy of bloodshed, bigotry, and ruination which overshadows any sympathy he may have otherwise received.

Military Career and Capture

Son of the eventual Commander-in-Chief of all US Pacific forces, McCain enrolled in the US Naval Academy in 1954. As he would later recall, his parents neither pushed him into nor discouraged him from military service. “I remember simply recognizing my eventual enrollment at the Academy as an immutable fact of life, and accepting it without comment.” Despite scoring high on the entrance exam, McCain skated by, “barely passing,” and graduated ranking 894th out of a class of 899.

Overall, McCain’s military career is remarkable only due to bad luck. Stories of his bravery and perseverance as a prisoner-of-war ignore the mediocrity which preceded it. As a junior officer, he earned a reputation as serious partier and a sub-par pilot. As biographer Robert Timberg would write: “His performance was below par, at best good enough to get by. He liked flying, but didn’t love it. … McCain was an adequate pilot, but he had no patience for studying dry aviation manuals.”

McCain spent most of his time drinking, womanizing, and generally dicking around. As the son of an admiral, he faced few, if any, consequences for his actions. Records show the young hot shot displayed a reckless disregard for his own safety and the safety of others. He nearly died in 1958 while stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas after stalling out his engine. A mistake he’d make yet again in 1965 while flying over Norfolk, Virginia in a solo trainer. In 1961, while stationed in the Mediterranean, he collided with power lines, causing widespread black outs across southern Spain. This wouldn’t have happened at all if he wasn’t flying so dangerously low.

His first serious brush with death, however, came during the deadly 1967 fire aboard the USS Forrestal which claimed the lives of 134 people. In his 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers, McCain claims that the accidentally launched missile which started it all struck him and his plane directly, though this has been contested. Unverified and largely politically motivated accounts claim McCain started the fire himself after a prank of his went awry. These are, of course, unverified and largely politically motivated. Official records shed very little light on the subject.

He first saw action during Operation Rolling Thunder. The sustained aerial bombardment, meant to crush the morale of the Vietnamese people, was ultimately a dismal failure. Though it did succeed in killing over 2 million Vietnamese, most of them civilians, and at least fourteen pilots from the DPR of Korea.

It was during Operation Rolling Thunder that McCain was thankfully shot down over “the heart of Hanoi.” Hanoi, of course, is the sprawling urban capital of Vietnam, a bustling city filled, then and now, mostly with civilians. McCain had just finished raining death upon thousands of horrified noncombatants when “a Russian missile the size of a telephone pole came up … and blew the right wing off my Skyhawk dive bomber.”

McCain described his descent and capture in detail in an interview with US News.

[The plane] went into an inverted, almost straight-down spin.

I pulled the ejection handle, and was knocked unconscious by the force of the ejection. … I didn’t realize it at the moment, but I had broken my right leg around the knee, my right arm in three places, and my left arm. I regained consciousness just before I landed by parachute in a lake right in the corner of Hanoi.

I hit the water and sank to the bottom. I think the lake is about fifteen feet deep, maybe twenty. I kicked off the bottom. I did not feel any pain at the time, and was able to rise to the surface. I took a breath of air and started sinking again. Of course, I was wearing 50 pounds, at least, of equipment and gear. I went down and managed to kick up to the surface once more. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t use my right leg or my arm. I was in a dazed condition. I went up to the top again and sank back down. This time I couldn’t get back to the surface. I was wearing an inflatable life-preserver-type thing that looked like water wings. I reached down with my mouth and got the toggle between my teeth and inflated the preserver and finally floated to the top.

Some North Vietnamese swam out and pulled me to the side of the lake and immediately started stripping me, which is their standard procedure. Of course, this being in the center of town, a huge crowd of people gathered, and they were all hollering and screaming and cursing and spitting and kicking at me.

About this time, a guy came up and started yelling at the crowd to leave me alone. A woman came over and propped me up and held a cup of tea to my lips, and some photographers took some pictures. This quieted the crowd down quite a bit. Pretty soon, they put me on a stretcher, lifted it onto a truck, and took me to Hanoi’s main prison.

He was sent to the nearest prisoner-of-war camp, Hoa Lo Prison, better known as the “Hanoi Hilton.” Lapsing in and out of consciousness, he spent the next few days being interrogated by a man he referred to as “The Bug.” Mark Salter, a top aide to the Senator and co-author on many of McCain’s books, told the Phoenix New Times that McCain admitted “Other guys had it a lot worse. I think they took it easier on me because of who my dad was.”

McCain receiving treatment at a Hanoi hospital, 1967.

McCain met frequently with the commandant of Hoa Lo Prison, Colonel Tran Trong Duyet, even giving him the occasional English lesson. Colonel Pham Van Hoa, then in charge of filming US prisoners, described McCain as acting “superior to other prisoners. … Superior in attitude towards them.”

Sitting in a fairly large cell, unable to eat without assistance, McCain recalled “Being a little naive at the time.” The capture of the son of the Commander-in-Chief of all US Pacific Force was a major propaganda victory for the North. He had not considered this when he agreed to be filmed by the French reporter Francois Chalais.

After I had been there about 10 days, a gook … came in one morning. This man spoke English very well. He asked me how I was, and said, “We have a Frenchman who is here in Hanoi visiting, and would like to take a message back to your family.”

I didn’t know at the time that my name had been released in a rather big propaganda splash by the North Vietnamese, and that they were very happy to have captured me. They told a number of my friends when I was captured, “We have the crown prince.”

Following the interview, he was visited numerous times by Vietnamese officials, including General Vo Nguyen Giap. Often, people came simply to speak to him personally, this admiral’s son. He was later moved to a smaller camp within Hoa Lo known as “The Plantation” and from here was moved periodically to different cells, both with other prisoners and in solitary confinement.

He would look back on his days here as deeply transformative. Both his patriotism and his faith in God were renewed and elevated. His allegiances, he would later write, were his the greatest comforts and strengths.

In prison, I fell in love with my country. I had loved her before then, but … It wasn’t until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her.

“He was a real hawk,” says Colonel Duyet, noting that “He never gave up on his support for America’s bombing of Vietnam.” Moreover, he was determined not to aid the communists in any way. When offered early release, he eventually declined. “The North Vietnamese were always putting this “class” business on us. They could have said to the others “Look, you poor devils, the son of the man who is running the war has gone home and left you here. No one cares about you ordinary fellows.” I was determined at all times to prevent any exploitation of my father and my family.”

Returning Home

He would eventually be released in 1973. Then thirty six years old, he had spent nearly five and a half years in Hoa Lo before boarding a plane for the Philippines and, finally, Florida.

McCain reunites with his family in Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

His years in prison, however, had little effect on his temper or his appetite for debauchery. Once home, he returned to a life of drinking and partying. His wife, Carol McCain, had been in a tragic accident four years earlier which left her struggling to walk and completely unable to keep up with her husband. McCain paid this no mind, instead turning to pretty much every woman who wasn’t his wife. Of their divorce, Carol would later be quoted as saying “My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be forty, he wanted to be twenty five.” Though she feels “no bitterness” towards him, acquaintances have been less forgiving, describing him as a “self-centered womanizer who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to play the field.”

Even the woman he eventually left her for, Cindy McCain, was treated with equal callousness. She faced the brunt of his notorious temper.

At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt!

Worse still, some have accused McCain of only marrying the beer heiress for the money. McCain made very little as an officer and, despite war hero status, lacked the aptitude to ever become an admiral like his father and grandfather. His father-in-law, on the other hand, Jim Hensley, was one of the richest men in Arizona.

Hensley, a mafia connected businessman, implicated in the murder of Don Bolles, a reporter with The Arizona Republic looking into said connections, set up his new son-in-law as Vice President of Public Relations for Hensley & Co., a gig which gave him the connections needed to secure his first Congressional election in 1982.

Political Career and War Crimes

The first real step of his political career was being named the Navy liaison to the Senate. Building off of his celebrity as a former prisoner-of-war, he was thrust onto Capitol Hill in 1977 to lobby on the behalf of the Navy to some of the most powerful politicians in the country.

It was then that he set his sights on Congress. Once he was hired by Hensley & Co., he made connections with the extremely influential Arizona bourgeoisie. He would replace longtime Republican Senator John Jacob Rhodes in the hotly contested 1982 election. Some of his connections, however, would come back to haunt him.

Charles Keating Jr., a rabid conservative and mobbed up real estate mogul, nearly cost McCain his career in 1987 when the Keating Five scandal revealed that he and four other senators lobbied by Keating used their influence to keep him from being audited. McCain was able to sweep the scandal under the rug, though Keating would not be as lucky. Once the stymied investigation was able to commence, he ended up being convicted for fraud and serving five years in a federal penitentiary.

McCain would create controversy again when in 1983 he voted against establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day and then backed Arizona Governor Evan Mecham in refusing to observe the holiday in 1987. He voted four times against the Civil Rights Act of 1990 which sought to ban racial discrimination in employment. He’s also toed the “heritage not hate” line in regards to the Confederate flag.

He’s worked tirelessly to overturn Roe v. Wade, supporting a “Human Life Amendment” which would extend the Fourteenth Amendment to include fertilized eggs, thus making abortion legally murder in all fifty states. The Amendment also calls for a global gag rule, rejects the ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and calls for increased funding for abstinence-only education. He’s also opposed several equal pay bills which make it easier for women to sue for workplace discrimination.

He has firmly and unflinchingly opposed same sex marriage, as well as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill which would prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, citing some nonsensical fear of “reverse discrimination.” He did, however, support the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell‘ policy right until the bitter end, both of the policy and of his life.

But what was most egregious was his hawkishness. One would imagine a former prisoner-of-war wouldn’t be so eager to send young people to the meat grinder that is unwinnable and unending imperialist war. This was never the case with him.

It goes without saying that McCain, a neoconservative à la W. Bush, supported entering and then escalating the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. What deserves mentioning is that, just in 2017, he unveiled his own personal plan to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan and surrounding areas significantly. His biggest criticism of Trump administration is merely that it isn’t bloodthirsty enough.

Where Bush was unable to go after Assad, McCain’s had a target on his back for years. Him and fellow war criminal Lindsey Graham have been some of the most vocal supporters of military intervention in Syria. McCain specifically supports the Free Syrian Army, a group of “moderate” rebels which have something of a love-hate relationship with ISIS, fighting them here and there while supplying them with a steady stream of weapons and food, all courtesy of good old Uncle Sam. McCain very clearly wanted to make Syria the next Libya, another nation whose destruction he vehemently supported before quietly forgetting about the whole thing once the open slave markets became known.

Gaddafi on his way out, Bashar al Assad is next.

Not content to support Islamic extremists in the Middle East, he was a huge supporter of Bill Clinton’s war in the Balkans, calling for support of radicals in Bosnia and Kosovo.

His calls for increased military intervention in Africa, especially Mali and Sudan, coincidentally align with his and his wife’s personal business interests.

Though he “prays there will never be a war with Iran,” he causally jokes about bombing the place. His hawkishness there even earned the ire of the CATO Institute which has pretty consistently come out in support of imperialist war.

He supports literal Nazi death squads in Ukraine, the very same who have deported and massacred Romani people and Jews (ironically using weapons supplied by Israel).

McCain in Ukraine next to Nazi Oleh Tyahnybok, seen preforming the Hitler salute.

In solidarity with his Nazi brethren and in line with his Russophobia, the outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin has called numerous times for drastic measures to be taken concerning Russia. McCain foamed at the mouth trying to get the US and NATO involved in Russia’s war in Georgia and, following that failure, has continually hoped to ignite conflict with Russia, calling the alleged 2016 election interference an “act of war.” He also made vague threats towards China, remarking that “the Arab Spring is coming to China.”

And, of course, who can forget the time he called for Trump to nuke the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a country he’s been gunning for since September 12, 2001?

Final Days

McCain’s final days were spent battling both with cancer and with President Trump. The “maverick” Republican, when he wasn’t voting exactly along party lines, butted heads with the President in late 2017 when he came out against Trump’s plan (or rather his lack thereof) to replace Obamacare, saving the Affordable Care Act at the eleventh hour. Upon returning to do so, the news of his cancer already known, he was given a standing ovation by his colleagues.

McCain back in the Capitol Building.

In December of 2017, he left Washington for the last time to be treated in his home state of Arizona. Thankfully for McCain, the Senator with his multi-millionaire wife was able to afford the best care available. This is not something most other Arizonians can say. Arizona has some of the worst healthcare access in the country. Worse yet, the state has seen insurance premiums skyrocket in recent years. For the average worker, the diagnosis of such a rare and aggressive form of cancer would’ve brought about only a quick but painful death and financial ruin. Instead, this ghoul got an extra year of life to advocate bombing brown people.

Yesterday, with death on horizon, the McCain family announced that they would be ceasing treatment. Less than twelve hours later, on August 25, 2018, McCain had died.

I think I can speak for all empathetic and freedom-loving people when I say my sympathy is with the victims of McCain’s imperialist blood lust.

The Outmoding of the Slave

History has shown that slavery is an extremely profitable venture until it isn’t. New technological developments are a double edged sword for slave masters, as the increased productivity machines allow for is offset by their slaves own lack of education and inability to effectively utilize new technology, and growing slave populations make keeping your labor force from killing you more and more a daunting and costly task. At a certain point, slavery becomes too unwieldy and retards development. This existential fear was ever present for slavers in America during the entirety of their existence. We see this in their bloody and desperate fight to have kept slavery alive. By 1865, commercial slavery in the US was only abolished because it was ready to be surpassed by industrial production employing proletarians.

New World, New Markets

In the America of the seventeenth century, so much fertile land was available for so low a price that it was actually hard to find anyone willing to come as a laborer. Europeans flocked to the New World ready to begin life as a landowners and proprietors. Historian Thelma Foote notes that “the colony builders initially intended to rely almost exclusively on white indentured servants.” For the great masses of poor Europeans, getting to the New World seemed like a way to escape the destitution and squalor of their home countries. Signing away the next four to seven years of their lives, usually to grow tobacco or other crops, seemed to them a fair trade.

This cheap labor made the plantations immediately very profitable; so much so that the stream of indentured servants who arrived more or less voluntarily was no longer enough. The growth of the plantations had far exceeded the growth of the colonial labor pool. Not only was a new source of slave labor needed, a new form was needed as well. It was no longer an option to go through the trouble of finding people willing to work for free.

There seemed to be no solution in either Europe or America. The indigenous population had been enslaved in the past but were simply too difficult to take and control. It was dangerous work going into native territory and stealing people and there was always the risk of a war party coming back for them and then razing the whole damn town. What few were able to be taken usually succumbed to disease quickly. Working with the natives, too, seemed impossible, as slavery was not part of the indigenous mode of production in eastern North America. Many even argued that the English, who would come to dominate the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the eighteenth century, were better off making friends with the natives, as they were “natural allies” against the Spanish.

Africa, however, was another story. Slavery was already a feature in most, if not all, African societies and African slaves brought to the Americas were less susceptible to disease. As such, they seemed a perfect fit. In Virginia, in 1700, there were a mere 6,000 or so African slaves. By 1763, that number had increased to well over 170,000, nearly half the population.

Though agricultural slavery developed first in the north, it was stymied by the harsh winters. Though still a feature in northern plantations, as well as in urban workshops, slaves became more and more staples of the northern elite, acting as butlers, chauffeurs, and servants.  The real money for northerners was in the sale of slaves. Northern ports, especially in New England, became a hub for the slave trade. Their market was in the plantations of the south and the Caribbean. Slavers there preferred to deal with slaves not taken directly from Africa, as they were already accustomed to European etiquette and believed to be less likely to rebel.

Slavery became all the more profitable throughout the eighteenth century as northern slave merchants raked in money selling to southern plantation aristocrats who also raked in money cultivating tobacco, sugar, and cotton. Even the sea faring slave traders had their fill. Despite the inevitable economic and diplomatic interruption caused by the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States, the British shipped, at the very least, 40% of all slaves from Africa to America. And though the British government abolished slavery in 1807, this did little to stop the transport of slaves by British merchants outside of Europe.

Industry and the Slave

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, slavery was firmly entrenched in southern society but declining significantly in the north where agriculture was taking a backseat to industry. In the 1790s and 1800s, British engineers and mechanics who made it to the US were immediately hired by wealthy northern financiers looking to build factories. With the south providing huge quantities of cheap agricultural products, especially cotton, the north found a foundation for industrialization.

Northern states had been gradually abolishing slavery since the 1770s. The Puritan anti-slavery rhetoric of the Quakers in New England and the Enlightenment philosophy of the American revolutionaries had changed public perception in just about every state above the Mason-Dixon Line. Vermont became the first state to abolish slavery in their 1777 Constitution. New Jersey was the last northern state to take similar measures when, in 1804, they passed a plan for gradual emancipation which would transform slavery into something more akin to colonial indentured servitude.

This was not an act of charity nor the product of a new humanist mindset. Anti-black racism was still near unanimously prevalent and many in the north, especially New Jersey, begrudged the abolitionist measures. So why did these states take measures at all? To push black people into agriculture and whites into industry.

By 1832, northern textile companies made up 88 out of 106 American corporations valued at over $100,000. These textile mills were worked, out of necessity, by wage laborers. White women and children, groups decidedly more educated than black slaves, were pulled from homes and fields into crowded factories. In their place, the former slaves could become the keepers of northern agriculture.

It is important to note that no slave could ever have worked in the modern industrial factories. Slaves, for the most part, were less educated than ever the European immigrants filling the factories. Though the machines at the time can hardly be considered complex, most considered black people as subhuman and “childlike,” likely unable to master the process of industrial manufacturing. Additionally, slave labor would slow the process of industrial manufacturing. Whereas the modern wage earner fears firing and so does everything to keep themselves employed, the slave in the same situation would worry about nothing. It’s not like they’re gonna lose their job. As was seen in plantations, slaves were not blindly obedient. Having no incentive to work harder but fearing to actually rebel or runaway, slaves often used passive aggressive means of resistance. Slowdowns and sabotage, in particular, notes Howard Zinn, were common. As bad as this was on the plantations, in a factory, this would be disastrous. The industrial proprietor needs the industrial proletariat. In the modern workplace, it is the wage, not the whip, that secures obedience.

New Jersey was the only exception to this. Western New Jersey, especially near Philadelphia, was significantly more urban and so was the hub of abolitionist thought in the state. Towards the east, however, agriculture was still king. The vast rural countryside still needed slaves. In Monmouth and Bergen Counties alone, the number of slaves more than doubled between 1772 and 1800. Thus, New Jersey was the only northern state to maintain slavery in some way, shape, or form until the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

Census records do show, however, that the slave population in New Jersey dwindled between from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the end of the Civil War. In 1800 there were 12,442 slaves. By 1860, only 218 remained. More than 5,000 gained their freedom just between 1820 and 1830. The growth of the proletariat proper and the corresponding diminution of slavery was inevitable.

Industry and the Civil War

The Civil War was a fight to death between two opposing orders, the old and the new, for the fate of the United States. The Confederacy was on the side of agricultural aristocracy, supporting free trade and, as was proven during the course of the war, backwardness. Keeping the US agrarian and underdeveloped, subservient to and dependent on the world market, would’ve resulted in poverty and ruination the moment the demand for cotton fell. Hence, as soon as their waters were blockaded and they were cut off from Europe, they crumbled beneath the Union’s industrialized army and were unable to secure any such technology for themselves. Cotton Diplomacy simply forgot that there were other cotton producers in the world, some closer to Europe than they.

The Union, on the other hand, was on the side of industrialization and modernity. They had more powerful banks, productive urban centers, and the kind of industry which could win the war and, eventually, the world. If the slave needed to be replaced with the proletarian, then so be it. As President Abraham Lincoln wrote, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.”

After the war, the goal of the Reconstruction era was to create a new, industrial south in harmony with the north. The new south needed to share the same economic motivation as the north with its great industrial base. While the north was exploding with the never before seen marvels of industry and technology—of capitalism—the south began down the long path to industrialization; beginning with the very same rudimentary textile mills which emerged some seventy years earlier in the north.

Child worker in a South Carolina textile mill, 1908.

The Black Nation

So what happened to black people following the end of commercial slavery, both in the north and south? When slavery ended, semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism began. Sharecropping turned black slaves into tenant farmers, effectively tied to the land, and slave masters into landlords, receiving tribute from their former slaves.

As tenant farmers, they proved more useful than slaves. Unlike the slave, the tenant farmer has initiative, is invested in the success of their crop. Where the slave may laze as an act of quiet rebellion, the tenant farmers very life depends on good harvests, cultivated fields, and the many hundreds of hours of work this takes. Of course, it’s the former slave masters who benefited the most from this.

Indeed, the “free” black population formed their own nation, a black nation. This, of course, was imposed on them from without. Unlike the white proletariat, theirs was a feudal exploitation which produced superprofit for their colonial masters. Their labor benefited only the white nation, exactly as the exploitation of the third world creates superprofits which benefit only the imperialist power and its labor aristocracy.

Segregation, both culturally and in written law, defined the borders of the black nation. Jim Crow defined the terms of their unconditional surrender, was the black nations Treaty of Versailles. In the absence of iron chains, rope would suffice to inspire terror in and do war with the new black nation as the white supremacist ideology which justified and maintained slavery now justified and maintained colonization. It can be said, and has, that the terror and colonial exploitation of Jim Crow was even worse than slavery. But such is life for a citizen of the black nation trapped within the white one.

Memorial Day and the Myth of US Unity

Memorial Day is something we Americans are supposed to take very seriously. Every year, countless civilians enjoying their three-day weekend are inevitably shamed by pundits, especially conservative ones, for forgetting what it’s “really about.” What it’s “really about”, of course, is mourning our brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom or whatever. We’re supposed to believe that it’s not a time for beer and barbecue and it certainly isn’t a time for petty political differences. But what is Memorial Day really about?

The Bloody Road to Unity

Historically, Memorial Day had been a point of contention in the United States for almost half a century. The holiday began in Waterloo, New York when, on May 5th, 1866, the town’s citizens closed their businesses to allow everyone to decorate the graves of their loved ones who died during the Civil War. In 1868, a Union veterans association designated May 30th as National Decoration Day. Over 5,000 war widows came to Arlington National Cemetery on the first Decoration Day to place flowers and flags on the more than 20,000 graves and future presidents Ulysses S. Grant and James Garfield both attended the first ceremony. From the 1870s on, Decoration Day ceremonies grew larger and more extravagant, with memorials being held on major Civil War battlegrounds like Gettysburg and Antietam. By 1900, the day had become known simply as: Memorial Day.

In the South, however, this was seen as a Northern holiday for Union soldiers and an insult to the Southern dead. Most Southern states refused to adopt the holiday and, to this day, Confederate soldiers are still honored on specific decoration days in many southern states.

It was not until World War I that the whole of the US recognized Memorial Day. The holiday grew to encompass not only those who died in the Civil War and World War I but all US war dead, going as far back as the Revolutionary War. Thus, Memorial Day became yet another attempt to erase the irreconcilable contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and further venerate the military. What is it but a day to conflate US imperial interests with our own? The children of the working class have never died for anyone’s freedom; they’ve only ever been hired (or conscripted) guns for imperial adventures. We, the working class, would rightfully oppose the US military if we didn’t constantly have militarist propaganda shoved down our throats.

Scapegoats, Erasure, and Celebration

Memorial Day is not alone in this. Holidays have always been a great tool for bourgeois propagandists. Loyalty Day, a day to remember how uncritically we must support the United States and its government at all times, was celebrated on May 1st, 1921 to direct attention from International Workers Day (aka May Day) which has been held on the same day since 1886. It is no coincidence that Loyalty Day was first celebrated by staunch anti-Bolsheviks and that every president since Eisenhower has recognized and made an address on Loyalty Day. Law Day, a day to celebrate the role of law in US society, is also held on May 1st.

These were hardly the first attempts to erase the US working class and our interests. Historian Howard Zinn recalls in A People’s History of the United States that, even before the United States existed, when the city of Boston conscripted eligible men to fight the British, those who couldn’t afford to pay their way out of the draft rioted, shouting “Tyranny is tyranny let it come from whom it may.” And we must not forget that, by all accounts, American revolutionary leaders were rich, landed white men who hugely distrusted the masses of the poor whites, many of whom demanded land redistribution and wrote passionately against the powerful and wealthy landowners as well as the British, and only appealed to white workers because they so obviously had nothing to offer the black slaves or indigenous peoples.

Attempts to erase the differences between the rich revolutionary leaders and the poor and landless rank and file can be seen in the Declaration of Independence when Thomas Jefferson, himself an extremely wealthy slave owner, writes: “He [King George] has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us.” Here, Jefferson completely glosses over the issues raised by the working class, blaming them on the British. Samuel Adams would do the same later, blaming the mutiny of unpaid and debt ridden soldiers who were all but abandoned after the revolution on “British emissaries.”

Perhaps following in this tradition, capitalist ideologues have gone on to accuse working class movements of being orchestrated by Soviet or Chinese agents all throughout the Cold War. And Democrats are still blaming Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral victory on Russian meddling.

Memorial Day is merely the specifically military oriented holiday that goes along with the rest of this propaganda. Don’t focus on our differences, we’re told, unite against the rest of the world! The military is here to keep us safe from the scary foreigners. Working people need to recognize that the US military has never been aligned with proletarian interests. Those who have died in the service of the US and it military did not die for their freedom but for others oppression. All talk of “fighting for our freedom” is merely an attempt to erase the fact that working people have died overseas for the same people who exploit and oppress them at home. It’s a hard truth, but true nonetheless.

Remembering John Brown

There are many great figures in the American anti-slavery movement. Most notable abolitionists, people like Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner, were once themselves slaves. Few white men ever shed blood for the freedom of black people. John Brown was one of those few.

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Radicalization

Born on May 9, 1800, John Brown became of a part of the abolitionist movement at age 46 after moving to the progressive city of Springfield, Massachusetts. He became a parishioner of the Sanford Street Free Church, an important stop on the Underground Railroad and a major platform for abolitionist voices. Here he heard the stirring words of abolitionists like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.

Daguerreotypes of Brown, one with the flag of the Underground Railroad, taken by black photographer Augustus Washington, 1847.

After an 1847 lecture, Douglass and Brown spent an evening together which Douglass claimed changed his entire outlook on the abolitionist movement. He remarked that, “From this night spent with John Brown … while I continued to write and speak against slavery, I became all the same less hopeful for its peaceful abolition. My utterances became more and more tinged by the color of this man’s strong impressions.”

Praxis and Death

John Brown was a militant. Having been schooled in Christian Perfectionism, he had zero tolerance for the evils of slavery. And unlike most white abolitionists, he had no hope for a peaceful end to slavery and he welcomed no compromise.

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.

His heart ached not only for the plight of black slaves but also for women and Native Americans. He was a protofeminist who made sure his sons did housework alongside his daughters (housework was something which men were exempt from at the time, as it was considered “women’s work”). And even before dedicating himself to abolitionism, as a farmer, he was known for being on great terms with his indigenous neighbors, having a great deal of reverence and respect for them, their land, and their way of life.

In 1849, he and his family moved to North Alba, New York to live in the local black community. He still believed in a violent end to slavery but became more and more optimistic as he saw the growth and development of communities like his where black people could live their lives in peace, far from the indignity and inhumanity of slavery. This optimism was forever buried when, in 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. While white abolitionists were talking of the gradual abolition of slavery, here was proof that their moderation was leading to nothing. Rather than be diminished, slavery as an institution was only strengthened. It was the imminent and very real threat of slave catchers invading these safe havens and dragging free men back into bondage that forced him to act.

I have only a short time to live, only one death to die, and I will die fighting for this cause. There will be no peace in this land until slavery is done for.

Brown returned to his old comrades at the Free Church in Springfield to organize the defense of escaped slaves. Together, they founded the League of Gileadites, an anti-slavery militia which was dedicated to defending freed and escaped slaves through force. They were an armed, illegal resistance group which did not go unnoticed by the federal government. This was simply the price of freedom. They did not expect peace and had every intention of fighting, even to the death. Another founding member, Reverend John Mars, told his congregation that “the time has come to beat plowshares into swords” for the defense of the rights and dignity of man.

Brown addressing the League of Gileadites.

The League was extraordinarily successful. Even after Brown left, not a single person in Springfield was ever captured again. William Wells Brown, an escaped slave turned novelist, would write of the city’s unique defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act and of meeting armed guards, black and white, patrolling the city’s train stations, ready to fight any slave catcher who attempted to do business in the city.

Brown’s revolutionary praxis would only get bolder and more violent from there. In 1854, amidst the chaos of Bleeding Kansas, he and his sons attacked and killed several slavers attempting to illegally vote to allow slavery in Kansas and who had murdered abolitionists months prior. There was also the famed 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, a failed attempt to secure weapons from a federal armory to arm freed slaves with.

The fateful attack would cost him his life. Most of his band of twenty two were slaughtered as they surrendered. Among them were Brown’s sons and numerous freed slaves. He and the survivors were arrested by none other than Robert E. Lee, then a colonel who led the retaking of Harpers Ferry.

Legacy

Brown was executed by hanging on December 2, 1859. Though he had died, his revolutionary legacy would live on. He was immortalized in literature and art, having captured the imagination of militant abolitionists across the country. Henry David Thoreau would sign his praise in ‘Plea for Captain John Brown.’

More importantly, his grime prophecy came true. Before the attack on Harpers Ferry, Brown had almost a thousand steel pikes forged to equip an army of freed slaves. These were confiscated by the federal government but ended up in the hands of a few wealthy and influential southern aristocrats who had these delivered to politicians and military leaders throughout the south. This was a warning. These steel pikes were what awaited them and their families if the southern states stayed a part of the increasingly anti-slavery Union. The message was clear. And at the Battle of Fort Sumter, the first battle of the Civil War, Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard held one of these pikes in his hand as he ordered the assault on the fortress.

“John Brown” pikes on display.

Some have called Brown a terrorist and a madman. He is slandered just as mercilessly and as baselessly as all revolutionary heroes are. Reality paints a very different picture of the man.

Brown was a skilled writer and orator. He spoke passionately about abolition and egalitarianism and rewrote the Constitution to show how the United States should defend the oppressed and eradicate slavery and exploitation.

Now the real question is, what the hell is so crazy about fighting for your fellow man’s freedom? What’s crazy is a society which puts black bodies in chains. What’s crazy are whites looking to compromise when black people are being killed and enslaved with impunity. Crazy is claiming to be anti-racist while systematically benefitting from racism and never once acknowledging it. Being outraged at oppression and taking a stand at the cost of your privilege is the most sane thing you can do. And it was as sane then as it is now, when black people are still being killed or dragged away, put in chains, and enslaved.

So as we remember John Brown and all who died in the ongoing struggle against racism and oppression, remember that while sane, rational moderates discussed the end of slavery, “madmen” were freeing slaves.

Or, as Malcolm X once put it: “If a white man wants to be your ally, [ask him] what does he think of John Brown? You know what John Brown did? He went to war. He was a white man who went to war against white people to help free slaves. He wasn’t nonviolent. White people call John Brown a nut. Go read the history, go read what all of them say about John Brown.

“But they depict him in this image because he was willing to shed blood to free the slaves. And any white man who is ready and willing to shed blood for your freedom—in the sight of other whites, he’s nuts.”

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